Granada of­fers the best of Spain

Scenic city at the foot of the Sierra Ne­vada com­bines Moor­ish palaces, his­toric dis­tricts, fine restau­rants and stylish shop­ping

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - LAURA HOLT

THIS an­cient Moor­ish strong­hold is to­day one of An­dalu­cia’s most scenic cities, with a dra­matic set­ting in the foothills of the Sierra Ne­vada, crowned by the grace­ful Al­ham­bra palace.

Bri­tish Air­ways re­cently started a new route from Lon­don City Air­port – re­in­stat­ing a di­rect air link from the UK that has been ab­sent for the past three years.

It will fly four times a week from Lon­don City to Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca Air­port in Granada, 15km west of the city cen­tre (granada_air­ The main al­ter­na­tive is a flight to Malaga fol­lowed by a two-hour bus jour­ney.

Buses from Granada air­port into town are op­er­ated by Au­to­cares José González (au­to­caresjose gon­za­lez. com; 5.25am- 8pm daily) tak­ing around 40 min­utes to reach the Cathe­dral of Granada; sin­gle fare 3 (R39). Taxis cost 25.

Granada was the last bas­tion of Al-An­dalus – the south­ern sec­tion of Ibe­ria that was con­quered by North Africans in AD711 and ruled by them for four cen­turies.

Af­ter Cór­doba and Seville were re­claimed by the Catholic king­doms in the 13th cen­tury, Is­lamic refugees fled to Granada, where the Nas­rid Emi­rate had es­tab­lished a sep­a­rate state for them­selves. The Nas­rids had taken up res­i­dence in a lav­ish royal palace high up on a hill in the heart of the city. They reigned for more than 250 years from the Al­ham­bra – which still dom­i­nates the city to­day – be­fore fi­nally suc­cumb­ing to the be­sieg­ing Catholic monar­chs (Fer­di­nand of Aragon and Is­abella of Castile) in 1492. It was the last city to fall and en­dures to­day as the place where the old Moor­ish Spain feels most present.

The Al­baicín dis­trict is par­tic­u­larly evoca­tive. Ris­ing on a hill north of the Al­ham­bra with sug­ar­white houses and steep, slen­der streets, it was des­ig­nated a Unesco World Her­itage Site in 1994, along with the an­cient citadel.

To the south is the at­mo­spheric Realejo quar­ter, where the Jewish com­mu­nity set­tled dur­ing the Moor­ish pe­riod, and the mod­ern Cen­tro dis­trict, with its boun­ti­ful bou­tiques and tapas bars. The main tourist of­fice (tur­ is at Plaza del Car­men.

For sheer grandeur, spend a night on the site of the Al­ham­bra at the Parador de Granada (para Housed in a 15th-cen­tury con­vent on the hill, it’s now a fourstar ho­tel with star­tling ter­race views over the city (dou­bles from 195, room only).

In Al­baicín, Casa Morisca on Cuesta de la Vic­to­ria 9 ( hotel­casamor­ is a char­ac­ter­ful re­treat with rooms around a cen­tral court­yard. Dou­bles from 100, room only.

For a bud­get op­tion, aim for the colour­ful tiled ex­te­rior of the Hostal La Ninfa on Plaza Campo del Principe (hostal­lan­, with rus­tic rooms and dou­bles from only 40, room.

Wan­der the white­washed houses and wind­ing streets of the Realejo. When the Moors still held sway, this old quar­ter on the south­ern flank of the Al­ham­bra was known as Gar­nata al- Yahud ( Granada of the Jews), so strong was the Jewish pop­u­la­tion here at the time. The two re­li­gions man­aged to co-ex­ist in rel­a­tive peace, but when the Catholic monar­chs took the city back, the Jewish com­mu­nity was ex­pelled and the area re­branded as Realejo, in hon­our of the crown.

The Campo del Principe is the main meet­ing point. Lined with a hand­ful of bars and restau­rants, it also holds the Igle­sia de San Ce­cilio, built on the site of an an­cient mosque and named af­ter the city’s pa­tron saint.

From here, wind your way down the nar­row streets of Calle de los Da­mas­queros and Cuesta de Ro­drigo del Campo, to reach the new Sephardic Mu­seum at Plac­eta Ber­ro­cal 5 ( museose­far­dide­gra

The mu­seum was opened ear­lier this year by a Span­ish cou­ple who spent years fundrais­ing to make it hap­pen. It tells the story of this old Jewish neigh­bour­hood (open 10am2pm and 5-9pm; en­try 5.)

Lovers of seafood should make for the Plaza Pescadería, where fresh fish and jugs of san­gria are served to tightly packed ta­bles in the mid­day sun, with a jubilant band of­ten on hand to en­ter­tain.

Oliver (restau­ran­te­o­ is one of the best, with seafood paella for 15pp. Win­dow shop­ping The Gran Víais is the place to wreak re­tail havoc. Here, you’ll find stylish Span­ish fash­ion out­lets like bimba & lola ( bim­bay­lola. es), smaller bou­tiques such as Su­sanna Cruz ( su­san­, and in­ter­na­tional brands in­clud­ing Longchamp (longchamp .com) run­ning on to Calle Reyes Católi­cos.

Start the evening on the Paseo de los Tristes, where Rabo da Nube joins a string of tapas bars un­der a vine- draped per­gola be­side the Darro River and the Al­ham­bra. The city main­tains the tra­di­tion of free tapas – any­thing from a few slices of manchego to a full plate of Iberico ham, bread and olives. Or­der a cerveza (beer, 2.50) and wait for your ap­pe­tiser to ar­rive while the moon rises over the Moor­ish palace in front of you.

Next, tackle the steep, tan­gled streets of the Al­baicín to un­earth the restau­rants with the best views of the Al­ham­bra.

GO FIG­URE: The Al­ham­bra tiles con­tain most of the 17 math­e­mat­i­cally pos­si­ble wall­pa­per groups. MC Escher’s study of the Moor­ish use of sym­me­try in the Al­ham­bra in­spired his sub­se­quent work on reg­u­lar di­vi­sions of the plane.

VIVA: Beau­ti­ful gar­dens and de­lec­ta­ble paella are Span­ish in­sti­tu­tions.

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